Article Hindi

Ram Gopal Bajaj wins Kalidas Samman, gets candid about Jolly LLB 2, Chef and life

The veteran film and theatre personality explains why he believes everybody in the world is an artist.

Photo: Shutterbugs Images

Keyur Seta

Veteran theatre and film artiste Ram Gopal Bajaj has been bestowed the prestigious Kalidas Samman by the Madhya Pradesh government for his contribution in the field of dramatics.

In the past, the award has been conferred on such titans of theatre as Habib Tanvir, Badal Sarkar and PL Deshpande. The award will be presented to Bajaj in Ujjain on 31 October.

Bajaj spoke to about why this recognition means so much to him. “In one way it’s good that Madhya Pradesh is not limiting [the award] to Madhya Pradesh-origin people," he said. "The first award was given to Shambhu Mitra. The second was to my teacher, Mr Ebrahim Alkazi. People like Habib Tanvir, Badal Sarkar, Girish Karnad, Vijaya Mehta, PL Deshpande, etc have also received the award. Gradually it has come to another generation.”

The announcement of the award triggered various emotions in him. “It means a lot because I have got something my great gurus have got," Bajaj said. "So, it is an elating experience. Sometimes, one feels, why did I get it so late? Sometimes, one feels, do I even deserve it? One is in the state of mind of a baby. It makes you humble. It’s a big thing that the award is named for Kalidas.”

Bajaj has been seen recently in films like Mango Dreams (2016), Jolly LLB 2 (2017) and Chef (2017). He believes, like the Bard, that everybody in the world is an actor: “I became a director and teacher of theatre in between. But primarily I feel we are actors who become journalists, politicians, philosophers, warriors and also actors (laughs).”

Working with Akshay Kumar in Jolly LLB 2 was a memorable experience for Bajaj. “Working with Akshayji was another humbling experience for the way he received and cooperated with me despite being such a big star," he said. "When he started his career, he told me, he wanted to take training in acting but could not. He shared such experiences. He said initially he was a professional photographer. He took my picture [during the shoot] and posted it to me immediately. I felt humbled.”

Bajaj said he is liking Akshay Kumar’s later work. “Somehow I have liked him in films like Baby (2015), Airlift (2016), and others. I was in awe of him despite being a theatre actor, teacher, guru and all that. I was impressed that he came for the initial reading of the script with [director] Subhash Kapoor. I directly asked him [Kapoor] why he wanted to cast me. He said because I have done theatre. He had done theatre with Tanvir or someone.” 

Bajaj recalled an incident during the shooting of Jolly LLB 2 that now appears funny. “I had to give him a slap. I was worried (laughs) as he is a tall person and a big star. I thought it would be a problem if he got hit in a wrong way.” 

Bajaj agreed to do Chef because he had liked Airlift: “I played an upset father. The younger version of the father was done by my son Riju. I did it because Raja Krishna Menon was directing it. I had liked his Airlift. It was a small role. I said I will do it but I won’t audition for the role. He had heard of me. Maybe Akshayji told him. [But] at 75, at the Big B's [Amitabh Bachchan’s] age, if I am getting this much I am happy.” 

Last year, Bajaj had an interesting experience playing a monk in Huo Jianqi’s acclaimed Xuanzang. “I played the eighth century monk Acharya Silabhadra at Nalanda University who taught Buddhism to the visiting Xuan Zang [also spelt Huien Tsang]," he said. "That film was mostly shot in China. And that director also gave me so much respect! I don’t know, I am feeling very happy in the last 2-3 years being an actor.” 

Bajaj will be seen next in the keenly awaited Manikarnika: The Queen Of Jhansi, which stars Kangana Ranaut. Speaking about his role in the film, he said, “I play a gurudev in Manikarnika. It [the film] is larger than life. Lots of style, those costumes and sets.”

Riju Bajaj is known for organizing a film and cultural festival in Lonavala called LIFFT India. He had mentioned that his father gives away all his prize money, whenever he wins any, towards the festival. When asked about this, the senior Bajaj said, “Yes, because Riju is doing something like this. He has started this and I have so much surplus [money], what do I do with it? I don’t drink and I don’t have any other interests.”

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